I have tried numerous times to bake ‘normal’ cakes for friends who have gluten/wheat intolerances, but I always found the cakes to be a little on the dry side. By normal, I guess you could say I mean the sort of cakes I would bake for people who don’t have food intolerances. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good ground almond cake as much as the next person, but it’s not a Victoria sandwich or a chocolate fudge cake, is it?
So, I tried. I baked lemon drizzle cupcakes for my partner, Manasseh’s, boss… A bit dry! Then I tried baking a spiced apple cake for work… That one was pretty good actually (recipe to follow!) What finally did it for me was the chocolate fudge cake I tried to bake. Wow! That one was dry (although my polite work colleagues tried to suggest it wasn’t!)
What was missing?! Well, gluten… Obviously! I’m sure you are all pretty much au fait with what gluten does but, just to recap: gluten is what we call the proteins in wheat flour that act as the glue or binding agent in our baked goods. Victoria Wood once joked that gluten-free bread was basically a bag full of crumbs. She wasn’t far off.
There are a number of ways to combat this lack of binding agent, when it comes to gluten-free baking. I’m really interested in trying flax and/or chia seed as a binding agent but, for now, I am sticking to xanthan gum (which seems to be the preferred, easy-to-find, solution.) You don’t need much to make your cakes soft and bouncy but it basically means you cake substitute plain wheat flour in any recipe for a gluten-free alternative and still achieve a tasty result. As a rule of thumb, you should use 1/2 tsp of xanthan gum to every 150g flour.
Flour is the other important thing to think about with gluten-free baking. You can try using a single-source substitute (such as rice flour) but I find a blend works best. The one I use is from the Sainsburys own-brand free-from range, and it’s perfect!
So, now we’ve touched on the basics of gluten-free baking… Why not give it a try. Trust me, these cupcakes are a real treat!
Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cupcakes
For the cupcakes:
- 165 g butter softened
- 195 g caster sugar
- 2 eggs
- 215 g gluten-free flour
- 1/2 tbsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp xanthan gum
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 100 g dark chocolate
For the buttercream:
- 250 g butter slightly softened
- 500 g icing sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp milk if necessary
- Preheat the oven to 160°c and line a muffin tin with cupcake cases.
- In a mixer, beat together the softened butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.
- Next, beat in your eggs. I like to add them one at a time, beating well between the addition of each egg.
- Beat the mixture until it is pale and airy before sifting in your flour, baking powder, and xanthan gum.
- Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until almost fully combined.
- Then, add the vanilla and chocolate, folding them in until fully combined.
- Spoon 1-2 tbsp of mixture into each of your cupcake cases.
- Bake the cupcakes on the middle shelf for 25-30 minutes. Or, until a skewer pierced in the centre of the cupcakes comes out clean.
- Leave to cool on a wire rack, whilst we make the buttercream.
Making the buttercream
- In a stand-mixer (a hand-held electric mixer will work too), beat your slightly softened butter for 5 minutes. This will incorporate air, making the buttercream light. It will also make is pale, which is what we want!
- Add your icing sugar in one tablespoon at a time, to prevent your kitchen looking like a scene from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe!
- Once all of the icing sugar is incorporated, add your vanilla and beat for a further 5 minutes.
- When ready, your buttercream should be stiff enough to hold it’s shape but soft enough to easily spread/pipe. If your buttercream is too stiff, add a splash of milk to slacken it. Too runny? Add more icing sugar.
- Fill a piping bag with your buttercream, and pipe a nice, big swirl on each cake.
- Sprinkle with chocolate strands to decorate.